Many people just starting yoga may feel a bit lost and need help and advice about it. In this article we'll try to explain some of the most frequent questions we get and see on other blogs and forums.
Yoga meditation is about quieting a busy mind
The Sanskrit word "yoga" actually means "union with the divine". The stretching exercises that we in the west associate with yoga were originally designed, thousands of years ago, to help the practitioner gain control of their own life force, a spiritual energy known as Kundalini. But the physical practice are not the only aspect of yoga. Even within the physical practice, yoga is unique because we connect the movement of the body and the fluctuations of the mind to the rhythm of our breath. Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Meditation as "the act of focusing your mind" is a great part of a well-rounded yoga experience.
Focus on the here and now
Learning to meditate in yoga involves more than sitting still for a few moments each day. Your mind might still be sifting through a barrage of thoughts and worries. By being in the moment we create that beneficial mind-body connection that yoga is known for.
Even if you only practice yoga for one hour a week, you will experience the benefits of the practice. If you can do more than that, you will certainly experience more benefits. We suggest starting with two or three times a week, for an hour, an hour and a half. If you can only do 20 minutes per session, that’s fine too.
Many people think that they need to be flexible to begin yoga, but that’s not necessary. Come as you are and you will find that yoga practice will help you become more flexible. This newfound agility will be balanced by strength, coordination, and enhanced cardiovascular health, a sense of physical confidence and overall well-being. All you really need to begin practicing yoga is your body, your mind, and a bit of curiosity. But it is also helpful to have a pair of yoga leggings, or shorts, and a t-shirt that’s not too baggy. If you're going to a class, it’s nice to bring a towel to with you.
Starting yoga practice at home
When you're just starting with yoga, it can be a good idea to take group or individual classes with an experienced yoga teacher. They can show you the right sequences and help you improve your posture and poses. However, if you're at the point at which you really learn to move at your own pace, listen and respond to your body, and develop greater consistency and frequency in your yoga practice, you can establish an independent home practice.
While practicing yoga at home sounds easy enough in theory, even experienced practitioners can be uncertain about which poses to practice and in what order. This refined and subtle art is called sequencing and it takes years of study to master it. You can of course learn some basic building blocks that will allow you to start putting together sequences of your own and to approach your home practice with confidence.
Sample yoga sequence
The opening poses of a sequence wake up the major muscle groups and provide a transition from the busyness of your day to a more internally focused practice.
Sun Salutations pick up where opening poses leave off, integrating breath and movement, generating warmth, and invigorating the entire body. Their hypnotic, thorough movements quiet the mind and prepare the body for the postures that follow.
Standing poses create strength, stamina, and flexibility throughout the entire body. They work the major muscle groups, such as the quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings, and core. Standing poses are efficient at preparing your body to backbends, twists, and forward bends.
Getting upside down is a key element of a well-rounded practice. Handstands, Forearm Balance, and Headstands stretch and strengthen the upper-body and facilitate circulation in the upper extremities. These poses are stimulating to the nervous system and are physically demanding; thus they can be the energetic peak of your practice. (While Shoulderstand is an inversion, it is a much less vigorous and less heating pose, so we practice it at the end with the closing postures.)
Along with inversions, backbends form the peak of the intensity curve in this sequence. They are demanding postures that require a strong degree of effort. Backbends stretch the front of the body, strengthen the back of the body, and balance the effects of time spent sitting in chairs. Most people find backbending postures stimulating, so you might choose to emphasize backbends in your practice if you want a burst of physical and mental energy.
Twists relieve tension in the spine, hips, and shoulders, and they gently stretch your hips and shoulders. These poses usually produce a balanced energetic tone that is closer to the grounding quality of forward bends than the stimulating nature of backbends. Placing them between backbends and forward bends in a sequence helps the spine to transition between these two extremes.
Forward bends typically have a calming effect on the mind, emotions, and nerves, which is why we often practice them toward the end of a sequence. These postures facilitate deep relaxation by stretching the muscles of the back and decreasing the stimulation of the sensory organs.
Closing postures complete a sequence by quieting the mind and relaxing the body. While opening postures focus on waking up the body and generating momentum for the practice to come, the closing postures help you surrender and absorb the practice.
However you adapt this sample sequence - whether it’s to focus on a particular energetic effect or on a part of the body - don’t skimp on the closing postures. They’re the key to assimilating the benefits of your practice.
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